U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the escalation of fighting in Syria is “one of the most alarming moments” of the conflict and called for an immediate cease-fire.
“In recent days I have warned repeatedly about the risk of a serious escalation of the hostilities in northwest Syria. I fear that with the events of the past 24 hours, we have reached that point,” he told reporters in New York Friday.
The U.N. chief was speaking after 33 Turkish troops were killed Thursday in a Syrian government airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province, the deadliest day for the Turkish military since it entered the conflict in 2016. Russian-backed Syrian troops have been waging a fierce campaign to oust rebels from their last stronghold in Idlib.
Guterres said a cease-fire is needed “before the situation gets entirely out of control.”
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Friday with 13 of its 15 members supporting Guterres’ call for a cease-fire.
Estonia’s U.N. ambassador, Sven Jurgenson, said Russia blocked Security Council resolutions calling for a cease-fire.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft called for “the Russian Federation to immediately ground its warplanes and we call for all Syrian forces and their Russian backers to withdraw to the cease-fire lines first established in 2018.”
Russia denied that its forces were involved in the airstrike.
Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council that a Russian delegation was in Ankara to stabilize the situation and said Moscow was “ready to de-escalate with anyone who wants to.”
Turkey’s U.N. ambassador, Feridun Sinirlioglu, said the evidence shows Russia was involved in the airstrike.
“The radar tracks demonstrate that (the Syrian) regime and Russian aircrafts were in formation flight during that time,” he said.
Guterres said nearly a million Syrians have been displaced from their homes in the past three months and said camps where displaced people have been sheltering have also been vulnerable to attack.
Earlier Friday, the World Health Organization said tens of thousands of displaced people in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province are unable to get health care because of the destruction of health facilities and a shortage of medical supplies.
Since hostilities in Idlib escalated in December, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said 84 health facilities have been forced to suspend operations. Only 31 facilities were able to relocate from the battle zone and provide services to those who have fled from the bombing.
The WHO has delivered seven truckloads with 55 tons of medicine and medical supplies in a two-day cross-border operation from Turkey to Idlib and Aleppo. However, the organization says the medical care is far below what is needed for the region.
VOA's Lisa Schlein contributed to this report.